Lyle Lovett has always been close to the land. The 58-year-old Grammy winner grew up on a farm near Klein where, when not on one of his numerous tours, he continues to hang his hat today. Lovett comes by all the Western imagery in his songs honestly; he’s an accomplished horseman who competed on a four-man team representing the National Reined Horse Association at the 2015 AQHA Cowtown Showdown in Fort Worth. True, nature hasn’t always loved him back (witness the 2002 accident where his leg was crushed by one of his errant bulls), but Lovett’s catalog of prickly love songs is laced with those reflecting a deeply lyrical appreciation for the beasts of the field and the birds of the air. With Lovett and His Large Band performing at Houston’s Hobby Center this evening — the epitome of a glamorous night on the town, even if it is a Wednesday — we thought it would be fun to head in the other direction and fish through Lovett’s songs that prove why he’s also the reigning Dr. Doolittle of Texas Music.
THE “BAD ONE”
In all fairness, nobody else could ride it either. Whether bull or bronc, the fearsome rodeo beast in “Farther Down the Line” symbolizes an exercise in futility right out of Melville. But in the ways of many things that are partly truth and partly fiction, this song isn’t really about a rodeo at all.
Written by the late unsung Austin hippie bard Steven Fromholz, “Bears” lists some things that may or may not be true about bears, who may or may not resemble homo sapiens a little more than we care to admit sometimes. Lovett chose the song to open Step Inside This House, his double-length 1998 tribute to his songwriting inspirations; here, Fromholz demonstrates not only why bears deserve a little more respect, but also the value of a quality pun. See if you can spot it.
A BIG DOG
This cantering track from My Baby Don’t Tolerate aims to soothe a fearful child in the closing miles of a long road trip. The big dog of the title may not bite, but the law dogs in Tomball do keep a close eye on their radar guns: “Thirty’s fine, oh, but thirty-one’s a crime.”
Of all the lines you might never expect to come out of Lovett’s mouth, “choke my chicken ’til the sun goes down” has got to be pretty high on the list. Unpack that line at your own risk, but hey, what’s good for Noah is good enough for "Farmer Brown" on Lovett's 2009 album Natural Forces. Things must get pretty rowdy in that barnyard sometimes.
A HEREFORD BULL
For a song that measures the unflattering passage of time as reflected in a handful of Texas institutions, it’s hard to imagine how Lovett and co-author Robert Earl Keen could have chosen a better image to open "This Old Porch." Spending his days playin’ hide and seek with that hot August sun, this stoic red and white creature would never, ever cry about the leavin’. Remembering all the falling down is a different matter altogether.
Old Black is the subject of My Baby Don’t Tolerate’s “The Truck Song,” meaning technically it’s an automobile, not an animal. But as faithful companions go, she has yet to let him down — thanks to BF Good tires and baling wire, Lovett has taken her overseas and even sleeps in her sometimes. Had Lovett written the song 150 years ago, you can bet Old Black would have had a saddle and a steady diet of oats.
The flightless birds in Lovett’s droll hit from 1994's I Love Everybody may be sensitive, but they're the opposite of high-maintenance. Keep your fancy cars, diamond rings and movie stars, Lovett says. All he wants in a companion is someone who just wants to sit around and watch it snow.
THE PONY ON THE BOAT
Consider “If I Had a Boat.” When at sea, one must take advantage of any available recreational opportunities. For example, if one has a pony, one must ride it as if one were Roy Rogers or the Lone Ranger, and endure whatever verbal taunting from Tonto came one’s way. If wishes were horses, we’d all take a ride.
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A DIFFERENT PONY
Choices weigh heavy in many of Lovett’s songs. On “Which Way Does That Old Pony Run,” an aging cowboy who has been lied to one time too many is just looking for the fastest way out of town, no matter which direction said horse may be heading. The lack of a question mark in the title could be significant, or not.
A WHOOPING CRANE
Fittingly enough, Natural Forces features some lovely nature-themed songs like “Bayou Song” and “Sun and Moon and Stars.” “Whooping Crane” makes it three of a kind, as Lovett ponders the poor job of stewardship modern society has done with the natural resources we inherited from Native Americans, as well as our shabby treatment of these proud people.
Lyle Lovett & His Large Band perform at 8 p.m. tonight at the Hobby Center, 800 Bagby.